ThrabenU 5 Year Retrospective and Content Plans

Time flies, huh? A little over 5 years ago I started working on Thraben University, and my plan at the time was to make it the ultimate D&T resource. I initially set out on the project because I was tired of answering the same questions again and again on The Source. After I saw, “I just started playing the deck, and I cut Flickerwisp because it doesn’t do anything.” enough times, it was just nice to be able to link to something that explained the nuances of the deck instead of reexplaining the same stuff over and over again. I knew the deck inside and out. I wanted to funnel my academic energy into something. I figured this was a great passion project to keep me busy. I saw what Bryant Cook had done for The Epic Storm, and I wanted to make a D&T equivalent. I kept the website very up to date for the first three years of its existence, and I know I helped train up a ton of the current generation of D&T pilots by doing so. I built myself a reputation as “a D&T guy” or even “the D&T guy” according to some people by doing so.

I eventually bit the $700 bullet (Rishadan Port was $$$) and bought into MTGO so I could start streaming. That initial buy in to MTGO was something I put off for literal years because spending so much money on digital cards was just not something I could justify with my budget. Teaching is a great and satisfying job (although very exhausting this year!), but it doesn’t let me lead a life of luxury. Now because of my hobby, I can afford to treat myself to a new video game or a nice dinner with the girlfriend without feeling guilty. Streaming and content production has gone well for me. I recognize that I am truly fortunate to be in this position. There are so many streamers who stream to an empty room. When I boot up the stream, I’ll usually have 100ish people who just want to hang out, chat about Legacy, and just have a good time. I’ve worked hard to cultivate an open, accepting, and chill community, and hanging out with chat is often a great beginning or ending of a day.

Once I started streaming and playing on MTGO regularly, it became much harder to keep the website up to date as a single man operation, especially since I’m a total novice when it comes to web design (this site is held together with bubblegum, paperclips, and the support of my friend Kerry Milan). There were so many things I wanted to do, and I had plenty of unrealized ideas, but time was a limiting factor. I can’t overstate how much time it takes to do content production, especially if you want to make professional quality content. That strategy article you read over lunch, for example, probably took someone six hours to put together. As I took on more projects, the website became more and more neglected. The Eternal Glory Podcast, The Legacy Premier League, Twitch, Youtube, guest appearances on other podcasts/channels, guest articles for other sites… It adds up quickly. The website was also something I didn’t try to actively monetize. I didn’t want educational information hidden behind a paywall. That’s just not my style. However, once I started to make money by doing video content, it did mean that it logistically made sense for me to focus on that content more.

My video content started out as entirely D&T content. I did a Daily D&T series on Youtube and streamed D&T a few times a week as I had time. I branched out into RW Taxes and Red Prison once I acquired the pieces for them by grinding leagues, and then slowly branched out into other decks once I picked up a sponsorship from Cardhoarder. These days the majority of my content is based around playing donation decklists. This is not something I originally intended on doing, but I’m very happy with the direction my channel went. Originally, I thought I knew what sort of content people wanted. *I* wanted high level strategic content from deck specialists. Accordingly, I set out to make the sort of content I wanted to see. As it turns out, it’s just a narrow subset of Legacy players that really want that content. Legacy, in turn, is a small part of the greater MtG community. I was making content that appealed very strongly to other grinders like myself, but not necessarily to the more casual Legacy player or the Magic community more generally.

To illustrate this point, let’s play a little numbers game. Of my top 50 performing videos on Youtube, how many of them do you think are D&T content? If you guessed zero, you would be correct. My highest ranking D&T video of all time (commentary on Eron Relentless’s Showcase Challenge win) comes in at #61 currently, probably lower by the time you read this article. Putting that in simple terms, a high caliber event with a pool comprised entirely of talented players, with a deck expert playing, AND a deck expert doing commentary hardly attracts attention. I recently recorded a league with GP: Atlanta champion and ANT expert Cyrus Corman-Gill. The league was strategically amazing and at an incredibly level of play; it was my worst performing video of the month with the exception of one video I refused to publicize because it was such a disaster (I am never playing Jeskai Ascendancy again!). My good friend Brian Coval (aka BoshNRoll) poured his heart into a strategic deep dive series called Deep Analysis; the videos tanked in comparison to any gameplay video with a meme deck. While I really enjoy making high level strategic content, that’s not necessarily what people want to watch. That’s a difficult pill to swallow and something that took a long time for me to come to terms with. Most people want something new, interesting, and entertaining, not the pinnacle of Magic play.

I fought against that conclusion for quite some time before I gave in and just embraced it. My current donation decklist model is my compromise between strategic content and entertainment. I love playing Legacy at a high level, but there’s also something really cool about helping someone tune their pet deck or showcasing a neat idea for the first time. I’ll play the meme decklist, but I’ll treat it seriously. I’ll talk through my lines, critique the decklist, identify fundamental weaknesses, and so forth. The strategy-loving folks will enjoy my dissection of lines, and the more casual folks will enjoy watching Dark Ritual go BBB into something fun.

Last year I did try branching out a bit and doing some content for Monster Train, a strategy game similar to Slay the Spire. I did so when Legacy was at, in my opinion, one of its all time low points. Between the format’s health and the pandemic more generally, I was worried about the death of Legacy, or perhaps even Magic itself. I’m not a “the sky is falling” sort of person, but when I kept seeing my Legacy-specialist friends offload their collections and get out of the game, I knew there was real danger. I wanted to hedge against that by dipping my toes in other waters. The Monster Train experiment was not successful. It had the same problem with my original Magic content: it was too high level to be appreciated by the casual player, and hence was only enjoyed by the degenerates like myself who really wanted to dig into spreadsheet data and optimize runs. Narninian, one of the best Monster Train players, rarely gets more than 100 views on his videos, and heartbreakingly, when I just searched him on Youtube, I saw two of his recent videos had zero views. The game didn’t have the audience or staying power that I expected, and hence I abandoned that endeavor. I did also dabble in Arena a little bit, but once Legacy returned back to a palatable state, I lost all desire to play on that platform. Historic was a fun format, but it is completely unviable to do things like donation decklists for Arena; loan programs don’t exist, and the platform is built in a way that is not friendly to content creators who want to try out a bunch of stuff for their audience.

Okay, back to Legacy now. I do sort of miss playing in more competitive Legacy events, but my desire to do so isn’t particularly high currently. It’s a combination of two things: time and proactive avoidance of burnout. I probably spend at least 20 hours a week making Legacy content. The idea of spending another 6 hours or so playing in a Challenge on a Saturday or Sunday isn’t super appealing to me. Work and personal life balance are quite important to me, and I don’t want to neglect my girlfriend or irl relationships for Magic. I love the game, but the game isn’t my life. It is very easy to forget this when you get caught up in the grind, and I’ve been guilty of that in the past. The other side of that is just my nature as a player. My biggest strength as a Magic player isn’t that I’m some genius; it’s that I put in the work, get the reps in, and study up. If I spent 10 hours a week for the next few weeks preparing for a big event, I would be ready. Right now though, I don’t know every matchup inside and out right now with any deck. I could get to that point again easily, but I’m worried that if I try to keep up the pace of daily Youtube content AND start throwing tournaments into the mix, I’ll just burn out and end up producing medium quality content and getting medium quality tournament results. Nobody wants that.

That said, I do want to try and play some Vintage Challenges over the summer. I think Vintage is an excellent format currently. Truth be told, I enjoyed it more than Legacy for a good portion of last year. Vintage is still fresh and exciting to me, and I think Vintage really rewards the skillsets I’ve cultivated as a player. I would like to play a bit more Vintage than I am currently for the Youtube channel. I feel pressured to “get through” my donation queue though and not keep people waiting too long to see their decks, so I’m hesitant to take days off from the queue to just do my own thing. Even if the Vintage videos don’t necessarily perform as well as my Legacy videos, I *know* the Vintage community really appreciates the content. That alone makes me want to fire up MTGO and record some content.

So what’s coming in the future?

I expect my focus will shift heavily to Youtube in the next year, and, honestly, that process has already started. Making content made specifically for Youtube (i.e. has editing and less dead time) has really increased my viewership numbers there; I regret just dumping unedited stream content there for so long. Legacy content will still be my primary focus, but I would like to dabble a bit more in Modern and Vintage (if you enjoy those formats, just saying, the donation queue would love to see some love with broken stuff from MH2…). I’ll still stream, but it will likely turn more into “I stream when I feel like it” rather than “I stream every week at X and Y time.” In the last month while the school year was wrapping up, I decided I just didn’t have the oomph to stream every week; I focused on just making Youtube videos instead. This gave my week much more flexibility, and I’ve been much happier doing that. I don’t have details finalized yet, but expect to see closer to one stream a week than the 2-3 that I’ve been doing for the past few years.

Over the summer, I’ll likely strive for Youtube content 6 or even 7 days a week. That’s not something I can sustain during the school year, but it should be a nice treat for you all for a little while. I’m *really* enjoying playing Magic right now, and I’d like to funnel that energy into content while I have the time and mental energy.

I’d like to do some editing on the website. It’s probably time to sunset a bit of the D&T content; while much of what I wrote was timeless info, some of the sections (e.g. matchups) are comically outdated at this point. I’ll keep the stuff that is relevant for new pilots (and maybe expand it a bit), but reading 3 year old info on the Delver matchup probably doesn’t do anyone much good! The website also probably needs a Youtube calendar at this point in addition to the donation queue. I’ve also considering adding some sort of “brewing fundamentals” section to help people tune and think about their donation decklists in a constructive way.

I have budding plans for more collaborative content. No spoilers, but I’d like to get some new sorts of faces on the channel. Expect to see some of that content start rolling out in July.

More generally though, my plan is to just continue to grow and improve as a player, content producer, and person. I’m striving to get better, and my content quality has skyrocketed in the last year. It was not an independent effort though. Bryant Cook and Brian Coval really lit the fire in me to improve my content; we exchanged ideas and grew so much by working together. Julian Knab and Min Hoq helped me with a number of tech questions as I upgraded my setup. The folks in my own Discord channel were a great sounding board for my ideas, and I frequently popped in to other Discords for advice on tuning random decklists (shoutouts to the Burn Discord in particular!). I’d also like to thank Jerry and Pat of the Leaving a Legacy podcast for letting me shamelessly plug my content in their Facebook group; they’ve built a good community there, though one that is oddly obsessed with Worldgorger Dragon…

Alrighty, I’ve written what I came here to write, time to wrap it up. This isn’t the strategic sort of article I tend to write, but I hope you enjoyed this “inside baseball” article that gives you a look at where my head’s at. Thanks to all the support you all have given me over the years. The content I make is for the community, and all those little messages of “I got into D&T because of you!” or “Thanks for helping me tune my deck, I just got my first 5-0!” mean more than you realize and keep me wanting to make content. It may sound cliché to say, but it’s absolutely true.

If you want to support my content in a free way, simply liking and/or commenting on the ol’ Youtube videos is plenty. Share my vods if there’s something you particularly enjoyed or you know someone who just loves the deck I played.

If you want to support me financially, this link leads to my Paypal. If you don’t have anything in particular you want to see, just write “dealer’s choice,” and I’ll take that as an opportunity to find something fun and just do my thing. Full details about all my donation stuff is available here. All I ask is that you don’t send me a donation unless you’re in a position to do so; remember, Magic isn’t life. There are other more important things your money might need to go towards.

I hope you all have a great summer, and here’s to hoping that we can return to “The Gathering” and have some paper events again in the not too distant future!

-Phil Gallagher

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Phil Gallagher

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